Objective and subjective measurement of sedentary behavior in human adults: a toolkit

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Colleges, School and Institutes


Objectives: Human biologists are increasingly interested in measuring and comparing physical activities in different societies. Sedentary behavior, which refers to time spent sitting or lying down while awake, is a large component of daily 24 hours movement patterns in humans and has been linked to poor health outcomes such as risk of all‐cause and cardiovascular mortality, independently of physical activity. As such, it is important for researchers, with the aim of measuring human movement patterns, to most effectively use resources available to them to capture sedentary behavior.

Methods: This toolkit outlines objective (device‐based) and subjective (self‐report) methods for measuring sedentary behavior in free‐living contexts, the benefits and drawbacks to each, as well as novel options for combined use to maximize scientific rigor. Throughout this toolkit, emphasis is placed on considerations for the use of these methods in various field conditions and in varying cultural contexts.

Results: Objective measures such as inclinometers are the gold‐standard for measuring total sedentary time but they typically cannot capture contextual information or determine which specific behaviors are taking place. Subjective measures such as questionnaires and 24 hours‐recall methods can provide measurements of time spent in specific sedentary behaviors but are subject to measurement error and response bias.

Conclusions: We recommend that researchers use the method(s) that suit the research question; inclinometers are recommended for the measurement of total sedentary time, while self‐report methods are recommended for measuring time spent in particular contexts of sedentary behavior.


Original languageEnglish
Article numbere23546
JournalAmerican Journal of Human Biology
Publication statusPublished - 5 Dec 2020

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